Thursday, August 2, 2012

And So... We Begin Again

The fourth year of begins now.

During July, I received a handful of emails wondering if I was still "out there".  Coaches.  Parents.  Various others... I didn't realize people were watching.  You see, I'm very compartmental and tend to dive in at full force once I leave the board.  I've been alive and well... actually preparing for Volleyball season behind the scenes.  But, once the first post goes up here?  Well, then it is on.  Then, the commitment has been made to keep writing and keep researching for the remainder of the fall and winter.  And so, we begin again.

After all, it is August and the first tournament of the year is only three weeks away.  We have less than one week to reporting day and first workouts (Wed., Aug 8).  It's time to think volleyball.  It's time to take a look at the 2012 Ladyjack Volleyball squad, re-introduce you to the veterans and showcase the new faces. It's time to take a look at the changing footprint of the Southland Conference.  UTSA, Texas State and UTA are gone.  Oral Roberts is on the schedule and Houston Baptist is too... and HBU will join in on full SLC action next year.  Things have changed.

Optimism. "Hope Springs Eternal".  That's the mantra of every preseason.

I had a chat with head Coach Debbie Humphreys in her office back on July 19.  I'll write about some of what we talked about next week, but the one thing that has stuck with me is her assertive claim that "We are relevant again".  I liked that phrase and incorporated her word "relevant"  in the new 2012 banner you see above this post.

In the coming days, I'll post about the chat with Coach Humphreys, take a look at continued renovations to Shelton Gym, and begin preseason capsules and interviews with the 'Jacks.  As always, once practices begin, I'll go take a look about twice a week and summarize a few thoughts -- without giving away any secrets, of course.  Looking back to last season, I don't feel like I shined a large enough light on last years' freshmen, so I've decided to begin player previews this year with our returning sophomores:  Paige Holland, Katzy Randall, Janet Hill and Jill Ivy.

I'll also take a look at what each SLC team "lost" in the off-season.  It's always tough to assess what each team has gained since mostly only coaches themselves have ever seen the current freshman play.  It's hard to know which freshman at what schools will make the most impact, but we can take a look at what holes are left behind at each school as we transition to 2012.  Who retains the most talent?  Who lost the biggest impact player?  Questions like that will be addressed in a post coming up soon.

In addition to the those ideas, I want to share with you a chat I'll have with now former Ladyjack setter Allison Gideon.  Allison is about to embark on an amazing opportunity and I want the readership to get a chance to hear her story and get a feel for her upcoming journey.  Gideon will forgo playing volleyball for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a once in a lifetime chance to be involved in missionary work that sounds incredibly fascinating.  I'll be chatting with her next week and give you both a write-up and audio chronicling her story.

For now, I'll let you in on a few concepts that you'll see at during 2012. Some of these are "new" for this year, so I hope you'll enjoy!
  • SLC5 will continue.  All during the season, approximately once a week, I will go around the league with a 5 to 10 minute audio update.  I got good response out of this last year - especially from other clubs around the conference.

  • "Where Are They Now?" will become a segment appearing approximately once a month where we highlight a former Ladyjack Volleyball athlete and let you in on where she is now, some of her favorite memories in uniform and as an SFA student.  This will also give you a chance to see where some of our folks have wound up and what their life has been like after spending time in Nacogdoches.  I realized this summer, that with 16 years at SFA now and seven of those working with the club that I am "old enough" to be able to track down and interview players from several past generations.  That should be a treat.

  • Guest Writers and Invited Posts.  I've talked to several people about submitting their own posts or articles to be published here in this space.  To this point, I've done 100% of the content.  But, athletes themselves, other coaches around the league, parents, and other volleyball enthusiasts have their own perspective on the game and SFA.  So, about once a month, I plan to turn this space over to a guest and let them wax philosophical in my place.

  • Southland Conference Lineup Grid and Depth Chart.  Ahh, there had to be something statistical, right?  Of course! Inspired by the awesome site MLB Depth Charts, this new component to the site will sit in the right-hand side bar all season long.  When you click on the link (I'll get it rolling about two weeks after the season starts) it will take you to a document that lists all the Southland Conference teams and will breakdown their roster into starters and main rotation players, non-starters that sub in and players deep on the bench.  This will be updated weekly as I constantly check on personnel changes all the time anyway.  This should give those that are interested a concise place where they can find the names of EVERY player in the conference and get a feel for their general role on their club.  SFA fans my find it useful in "scouting" upcoming opponents from week to week.  I've been doing this sort of thing for the last few years on paper anyway, so this is just a slight formalization of my own notepad that I carry around as I attend matches and such.

  • More Data Driven Analysis. Being a statistician by trade, I have always wanted to be careful to not bludgeon the readers here with numbers and data in every post.  Indeed, the eyeball test sometimes tells you all you need to know.  A good blend of statistics and actual observation from watching a lot of volleyball tends to generate the most unbiased studies.  I've tried to pride myself on being objective, despite my loyalty always going to SFA first and foremost.  I don't want to betray the readership that has let me know that they appreciate the candor about SFA or their school - whether my opinion be positive or not.  Numbers are useful for finding trends and for this reason, during 2012 I will be keeping a binder of every box score produced by the Southland Conference.  Yes, you read that right.  Every box score: One 3-Ring Binder.  This will allow me as I have ideas to study to have one simple source for all the numbers.  Many times, I've wanted to look at a particular issue on serving, or trends in sets, or margins of victory or what not.. and in order to get the data to look at it, I'd have to spend days bouncing from site to site.  But, with every box score printed out and placed in the almighty binder... I should be able to answer a few questions as they emerge.  If you see me at an away match or conference tournament with the binder... and you even touch it... I may have to kill you.

  • More Interviews Around The League.  There are still a few teams that I haven't focused as much on when they come to Nacogdoches and there are still a few relationships I need to forge with coaches and representatives from the conference.  Last year, I made more strides than ever in "volleyball networking" around the league, but I intend to be much more aggressive with this during 2012.  Every team and every coach needs to know what is.  To reciprocate, I intend to interview more coaches and players from other clubs than ever before.  These things draw more traffic to the site and ultimately get more people reading about SFA and that's good for recruiting and the general reputation of the program.
All of this along with the traditional coverage generating a couple of posts per week that you've come accustomed to here.

I hope you'll enjoy reading here during the 2012 season.  My email is always open ( for comments and suggestions.  To those that have been part of supporting my efforts in this space for the last three years, let me offer you my heartfelt thanks.  Let me once more thank the Dad of current Ladyjack Les Jackson for his gift at the end of last season.  For those that don't know, the seniors were given a "real" axe that was decorated with their name and various volleyball logos.  To my surprise, I received one too and mine has my name on it along with the stamp "No. 1 Fan".

So, let that be a warning to you.  There is NO bigger fan of SFA Volleyball than yours truly.... and I've got the axe to prove it.

Axe' Em, Ladies.  Go tear this new conference up.